Ingredient Deep Dive: Hyaluronic Acid

What is Hyaluronic Acid?

In the skin, hyaluronic acid’s main role is to bind to and retain water. The hyaluronic acid levels in our body decline as we get older, making it a potential contributing factor to some aging concerns associated with loss of water, such as fine dry lines and loss of skin elasticity. Our newest formulation targets issues like these improving elasticity, and working to hydrate and plump the appearance of fine, dry lines immediately.

Despite its name, it isn’t actually acidic. It gets the ‘acid’ part of its name from uronic acid (one of the molecules that is part of its molecular structure), but it doesn’t act like an exfoliator. Instead, its name refers to different sizes of sugar-based molecules that are often found in its sodium salt form, a.k.a Sodium hyaluronate. We call this a polysaccharide compound.

These compounds can organize themselves into different sized mesh-like structures, varying from the super small, hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid, to a large hyaluronic acid crosspolymer of varying weights. Picture them like lego blocks, attaching and growing in different ways and sizes. It’s this adaptable nature that means it can play multiple roles in the body. We find it across multiple skeletal tissues and organs but most abundantly in the skin, accounting for around 50% of the total body hyaluronic acid.
Hyaluronic Acid 2.0
The Science of How Hyaluronic Acid Works
If you want to understand the relationship between hyaluronic acid and skin hydration, it helps to know how hyaluronic acid works. The molecular structure of hyaluronic acid has multiple points that can hold onto water molecules. These are called hydroxyl groups and are represented as either -OH or -HO. (Chemist’s Tip: the more -OH groups you see in the molecular structure of a compound, the more water it will be able to hold!). When applied to the skin, hyaluronic acid will do just that: hold onto water to keep skin hydrated.

One misconception about hyaluronic acid is that it can contribute to dehydration by pulling water from deeper layers of the skin to help hydrate it–particularly in dry environments. This is a common mistake given that hyaluronic acid is frequently referred to as a strong water “magnet”. In reality, the type of bond formed between hyaluronic acid and water isn’t that strong: just enough to hold onto water but not so much that it could attract or pull in water from elsewhere. What actually happens is that, as water molecules naturally move up through multiple layers of the surface of the skin, they come into contact with hyaluronic acid molecules and stick to them, helping the skin to retain moisture.

By helping the skin hold onto water, hyaluronic acid helps to instantly hydrate the skin, giving softer, smoother skin.

Beyond Just Hydration: Multi-Faceted Benefits

Dehydration is associated with multiple skin concerns, which is why so many of the benefits of hyaluronic acid lie in its ability to retain water. For example, the natural shedding of dead skin depends on water and can be disrupted by excessive water loss. This leads to irregular shedding and the uneven texture that follows. Dehydrated skin can also appear less plump causing the appearance of fine lines.

Hyaluronic acids’ ability to hydrate skin makes it a great option to visibly plump and smooth the skin, helping to immediately minimize the appearance of fine dry lines.
Molecular Weights + Penetration
Not all cosmetic formulations feature the same molecular weight of hyaluronic acid. Because of its structure, hyaluronic acid can organize itself into varying sizes that can vary from formulation to formulation. Different weights of hyaluronic acid work within the layers of the surface of our skin, helping to provide hydration across multiple layers.

This is why our Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 contains five forms of hyaluronic acid:
  • Low, medium and high-molecular weights: a combination of molecular sizes of sodium hyaluronate that provide hydration across multiple areas.
  • Sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer: a type of hyaluronic acid that forms a protective mesh on the skin’s surface.
  • Hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid: a new, very low-molecular weight of hyaluronic acid added to our new formulation.

Incorporating Hyaluronic Acid into Your Regimen

Incorporating hyaluronic acid in a skincare routine is easy. This versatile ingredient can be used morning and evening, and works well with any other products. To add a serum like our Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, apply it first after cleansing or after other water-based toners and serums like our Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%. It would be applied before any anhydrous formulations, oils and creams like Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA.

There is no evidence that applying hyaluronic acid to damp skin will provide better (or worse) hydration. You can do it if you choose to, but applying on dry skin works just as well! The trick when using products containing hyaluronic acid is to apply sparingly, pat in, and leave to dry. Too much product or excessive rubbing can lead to a sticky residue. A small amount of our new formulation should be just enough.